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To my single sisters when they ask, Am I allowed to be discontent with my singleness?

Today’s question is, Is it OK for Christians to be discontent with being single?

Last time we asked if singleness is a lesson sent from God to fix sin in a person’s life. I argued that because our world is fallen, singleness might have more to do with the brokenness of the world than with personal sin in your life. However, saying that the world is fallen is not to say that God is not in control of it.

The ostrich in Job 39 is, apparently, created by God to be stupid, so stupid she even tramples her own eggs. Some things in God’s world don’t make sense. Some things seem random. Would the order be different if the world wasn’t fallen? Was the ostrich that stupid in Genesis 1? Who knows? We do not know God’s world apart from its fallenness, and yet even in that fallenness, God affirms that he is its designer.

When we speak of God as sovereign over the mess, the point is not to go looking for the order or the reason or the plan in the fallenness but to admit that we don’t get it. And don’t like it. It’s OK to name the messiness. This is where the question of being discontent comes into it.

Saying, ‘Being single doesn’t seem right for me’ is OK. That’s precisely the point of the ostrich: it doesn’t look right. There are some things that don’t seem to fit, that we don’t understand. This is why there’s a whole book of the Bible devoted to the absurdity of the world.

This is also not to say that God delights in chaos or loves the mess. On the contrary, from the very first chapter of the Bible, he is bringing order out of chaos! Likewise, Jesus’ attitude to the fallen things of this world is hardly tolerant: he goes around healing sick people, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, and ultimately defeats death. He puts to rights that which is broken.

Now, some Christians would argue, based on 1 Corinthians 7, that while there are some things we are to dislike about our world, singleness is not one of them. As I said last time, singleness can be a wonderful, fruitful thing. However, 1 Corinthians 7 hardly argues that singleness is a natural state for human beings. The kind of singleness on view in 1 Corinthians 7 is voluntary, and instigated because of some kind of eschatological crisis. The assumption there is that singleness is kind of counter-intuitive for human beings, that it’s not quite the norm or the usual. So it can be good, but my point is, it may not be, and you don’t have to feel that it is.

My aim here has been to set you free if you have been feeling that you must accept your singleness as good. My hope is to give you the freedom to feel that it is not right and to name that. There is an appropriate kind of discontentment in the Christian life. We know that because Jesus himself demonstrated great sorrow at the state of the world. It’s a discontent that longs for home, where things will be put to rights, where all the desires of our hearts will be met, and where our relationships will be harmonious and fulfilling. It’s possible that if you feel unhappy in your singleness, that’s part of what you are feeling. I want to validate that, to say, that’s OK. There may be something very good and right and holy to that feeling.

So where is the hope in all this? Our hope is in the one who gets you. Remember Jesus’ incarnation: his suffering was not just in his horrific death but in his life as well, as he knew loneliness, sickness, hunger, weakness, sorrow and frustration. None of these were the result of his sin since he was sinless. They were part of what it means to live in a fallen world. And Jesus knows this feeling; he’s lived this. He’s experienced the unfairness. He knows the pain. He gets the ‘why me?’ And he’s doing something about it. He’s re-making the world. His resurrection is the first-fruits not only of new life in you but of a new world for you free from tears. So if there’s anyone to cry out to for change and for comfort, it’s him!

 

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

10 replies

  1. The challenge is that we always assume that our kind of discontentment is “an appropriate kind of discontentment”. Discontentment as a rule keeps our focus on the present, rather than the future with the resulting feeling “if I cannot trust God for the present, how can I trust him for the future – I’ll take what I can get myself”. With singleness we can even say “well.. God says that there won’t be marriage in the new heavens and earth (Mark 12:25) – so I’m missing out”. This is made even more difficult when our world says that to know love in a intimate relationship with another human is why we exist and a taste of heaven. I think the future hope we can look to is never feeling alone (or ever being isolated/excluded). Yet, we have the promise even now that we are not alone because Jesus is with us always (Matt 28:20).
    My opinion is that Paul doesn’t seem to give us room for discontentment when he says in Philippians 4:11-13 that I have learned in whatever situation to be content. I think we can have a desire for something different and at times we will express this passionately to God which is a really good thing! However, all this should be tempered with a overwhelming thankfulness for what we have and a greater desire to pursue his purposes in our lives. For it to be a desire that burdens us consistently indicates to me that we don’t trust God with that desire or aren’t following his leading. It also tells me that there may be a need to do some work to bring change to how relational needs are being met. So much more to say on potential lies we believe, the truth we need, what Christian community should look like, but a final thing to remember is discontentment is not just a thing for singles.

    1. Hi Randle

      I don’t think discontentment necessarily leads us to focus on the present. My point is that when put in context of a fallen world, it leads us to greater dependence on God.

      Paul’s comments in Phil 4:11-13 are about material security so I think there’s some work to do to assume that they’re making a universal statement about contentment, especially in the light of Jesus’ strong reactions of ‘this is not right’ to things that are not as they should be in our fallen world – which is how I have defined this kind of discontentment.

      1. Yes, Phil 4:11-13 is about material security, but I think it contributes more broadly than that. They are also words spoken about having a contentment with God’s provision in the context of suffering. They are spoken in the context of thinking on anything true, praiseworthy..etc. They are also spoken in the context of God supplying our every (material) need according to the riches in Christ Jesus. It’s not a big stretch to take what Paul is saying further to other situations that are “not good” (I’ve not got time for outlining a broader theology).

        I guess the broader question is what to do with discontentment if we don’t have what the Bible tells us is a godly thing to desire (I agree that marriage is a godly thing to desire!). We can pursue things with godliness, but that doesn’t mean we will get what we desire (which is often the case in singleness). So what then? Continue with discontentment? I can’t see this as helpful pastoral advice. I think I also need more convincing that discontentment leads to a dependance on God. Maybe that is because in the majority of cases I’ve seen discontent I’ve seen a lack of thankfulness, the absence of trust / peace / patience / self-control… often bitterness, self-righteousness (I deserve this thing) and coveting. I just can’t see how a long-term discontentment can lead anywhere good. Maybe the word carries too much baggage. What I have seen is that when the Holy Spirit stirs discontentment it is usually to bring about change – but these things aren’t godly fruit which makes me wonder what the roots in a person’s heart are…

        Perhaps a helpful diagnostic question to start with: is this discontentment leading me closer to God and to following his purposes in my life? If yes, continue to pursue with a thankful/holy/joyful discontent… If no, then we need to ask what is God wanting to say to us about that… along with a whole lot of other questions to look at the root of where this discontentment is coming from, what is feeding it, what lies is it causing us to believe about God…etc. In this situation we do need to learn contentment (or a thankful/holy/joyful discontent) because it isn’t easy having unmet desires (some hurt more than others). However, learning contentment is the answer to no longer living a life robbed of joy.

  2. btw. I was curious about the Ostrich stepping on her own eggs so read Job 39 and it seems it was the other wild animals that might do the stepping. Still.. since she is harsh to her offspring and lacking wisdom – I’m sure there are plenty of cases of an Ostrich crushing her own eggs! Interestingly, while she is not gifted with wisdom, she has the gift of speed and so she laughs at the horse (30km/h faster than a horse at full gallop!). Your point still stands though that we don’t know why God gifted her in this way (and whether it was pre/post fall).

  3. I suspect we are in ‘problem solver’ vs ‘sympathiser’ territory here Randle.

    My concern here is for women who feel unnecessarily burdened by guilt because they do not feel content. My experience, and what I’m hearing from girls, is that they hear a lot about how they should be content and that rather than helping them towards contentment, this burdens them: not only do they feel ‘faulty’ because they are single, they’re also sinful and obstructing their own sanctification.

    My feeling is that the repentance/holiness framework through which we as evangelicals push (dis)contentment does not account for a theology of sin ‘out there’ as well as ‘in me’, as I argued in the last post. My hope here has been to validate those feelings of things being ‘not quite right’ or hard for reasons beyond the control or holiness of the single.

    As I said in the last post, none of this precludes sanctification in singleness but my experience is that sanctification is something single girls are well aware of. However, they rarely hear words of comfort beyond trite cliches. My hope, evidenced in both posts, has been point my sisters towards God as the source of comfort and the one who is bringing change. That’s the level as which I think it points to dependence on God.

    1. I’m not sure it’s an either/or case, but instead both/and which I’ve expressed.

      I totally agree on the need to sympathise, for people to experience comfort and for people to feel freedom in expressing discontentment with unfulfilled desire. It is important for their relationship with Jesus. It is important to know they are loved how they are and there isn’t something wrong with them. I disagree that discontentment is a place where we should encourage people to remain longer term as this issue will only grow in complexity as disappointment builds on disappointment (and I don’t read this as a short-term question). Discontentment (dissatisfaction) is very different from unfulfilled desire. It is also a surface issue rather than a root which is why many don’t move past it as they try to convince themselves into being content with something that is “not right” with very little support from the church. I think you’ve validated that feeling of singleness being a “not quite right” place to be quite well, but I just see discontentment as a very dangerous place for the heart to sit.
      I don’t think this is exclusively an evangelical / holiness model. I see Jesus as the one who says “this is not right”, brings comfort then brings healing/freedom and carries burdens so we don’t have to. Maybe I’m expecting too much?

      Is singleness the exception because it is “other”? Can we really say to the poor person “learn to be be content”, but the poor single person “be content with your poverty, but be discontent with your singleness”? I just don’t see how we can separate the desires for material from the desires for immaterial with much distinction. In this we know full well that long term discontentment leads them towards taking their contentment into their own hands. I’ve seen this the more common case with singles and I don’t see many of these singles at church any more. Yes, comfort is important (and the need is magnified in a peacetime, individualist, rights based society), but a Christian life beyond the burden of discontentment is what I want people to know where their relational needs are met and their hearts know peace.

  4. Thanks for these posts Tamie, and Randle’s comments too.

    Interestingly Randle, you’ve mentioned ‘comfort’ as being a major reason why you believe single people leave the church. However, I can’t see a connection between wanting relationship, love and loyalty with another human as being on the same level as desiring material riches/comfort. Unless you mean ‘comfort’ as in, being comforted within a romantic relationship?

    Having recently done a research project on the pastoral care of singles in complementarian churches (30-50yrs), and overwhelmingly hearing stories of singles feeling isolated, separated, slightly ‘less than human’ because of their single state, I want to suggest that one of the top reasons singles leave the church is because they are geared towards families. The older that single adults get, with their contemporaries getting married and entering parenthood, there is a real disconnect for these adults – they’re not in the ‘normal Christian stream’ of life. Homogenous services increasingly highlight this – where does a single 43yr old adult ‘fit’? Not at the young families service, or the oldies-traditional service, or the youth service… Given that church stats do not reflect Australian population stats (eg. 75% of ppl who attend church are married – yet only 49% of the population are married), this shows an imbalance (and not just towards singles, but to those who are divorced, separated, de facto etc).
    You are both brave (!) to tackle a subject which you both have little personal experience or understanding (I’m assuming for you Randle – apologies if this is incorrect). As a 34yr old single female, I would like to give married people some pastoral advice too (ie be thankful for your spouse! Stop whinging about how hard it is to live with someone who is sinful like you, and the children you have been gifted with, and stop and think if they were killed in an accident and you were alone every day and night from then after…how content would you be?)

    Ok – getting on a rant so better leave it there!

    Thanks for these posts though :)

    1. Claire, thanks heaps for this insightful comment. And thanks for sharing from your project! My intuition and the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen is precisely what you say – that singles feel ‘less than human’ in their church contexts. That’s part of why I wrote, in some very small sense of solidarity, to say to singles ‘You are OK!’ Those I speak to are often hearing plenty about contentment and receiving little validation that things might be hard, so hearing those words is a relief and a burden lifted.

      But like you say, we need to do more, thinking about how we structure church and church community and what we talk about. IMHO we as the church put a disproportionate amount of energy into building marriages and fighting for various marriage laws – not that these things are not important of course, but the energy we spend on them can come across as exclusionary.

    2. Thanks for this, Claire. I agree that our churches have some real work to do in order to become a home for singles — it’s just not something we excel at, is it!? In the past I’ve had a go at addressing this by trying to affirm and elevate singleness (are we ever really prepared to see it as a valuable place to be?). But saying this can have a dangerous rose tint to it! So maybe we need to affirm the tension of being single? Or? Either way, we can’t speak about it if we’re fixated with the nuclear family. Good thing God’s vision for family is bigger than that — if only we reflected it.

  5. Churches really don’t want singles to find contentment. Found an article on Boundless by some clueless matron (probably married at 19) shaming singles for trying to give up on highly improbable dreams and making the best of lives we did not choose. Give me a break! Why not let us poor washed up spinsters bury our dreams and get on with life? I know God–not luck–governs the universe. But righteousness seems meaningless in one’s ability to attract a marriage partner.

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